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Superior Court judge remembered for warmth in the face of tragedy

New London Superior Court Judge Harry "Hal" Calmar is dead after a lengthy hospitalization with COVID-19.

Colleagues said Calmar, 63, died Thursday at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Mass., where he was transferred with the start of the new year. Predeceased by wife, Martha, and daughter Isabelle, he leaves behind two grown children, Harry and Margot.

Those who spoke with The Day would not comment on whether Calmar was vaccinated against COVID-19.

New London Superior Court Judge Hillary Strackbein last saw Calmar in early December, several days before he checked himself in to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital because he felt sick. Now the district court has lost the glue that held it together, she said.

"I never thought that would be the last time I saw him. I can't believe he's not there," she said of the Huntington Street courthouse where Calmar oversaw civil cases while she presided over criminal ones.

Calmar came to the New London Judicial District in 2017 after being appointed to the bench in 2006. It was a homecoming of sorts for the man, who got his local start as an attorney for the New London law firm Suisman Shapiro.

"It's going to sound like hyperbole that Hal Calmar is the nicest person, the most wonderful person I think I've ever met," Strackbein said.

She described it as especially striking that he came to work every day with a smile on his face — and a pervasive sense of humor and warmth in all his interactions — despite the tragedies that had befallen his family.

Isabelle Moschos Calmar died in 2010 at the age of 16. Martha McCormick Calmar was 63 when she died in March. Both had glioblastoma, which the National Brain Tumor Society describes as one of the most complex, deadly and treatment-resistant forms of cancer.

"All I can think is he's at peace," Strackbein said, trying to rationalize it. "He got bombarded long enough. Maybe he doesn't have to suffer anymore."

Calmar graduated from Tufts University in 1980 and received his law degree from Albany Law School of Union University in 1984. He started at Suisman Shapiro in 1986 after working at his uncle's firm in Massachusetts, according to state Appellate Court Judge Thomas A. Bishop.

Bishop, who worked with Calmar in the New London firm for almost a decade before becoming a state Superior Court judge in 1994, counted him as "a very dear friend." Both worked in labor and employment law, with Bishop happy to let the newcomer take over the workload.

Calmar quickly became one of the premier employment attorneys in southeastern Connecticut, according to Bishop.

The appellate judge, like Strackbein, spoke of Calmar's warm nature.

"Every place he went, he was beloved," Bishop said. "There are some judges who are simply respected for their legal knowledge. Hal was both loved and respected, because he brought a warmth and a compassion as well as great legal acumen to his work as a judge."

He pointed to Calmar's application for the state bench as evidence of the high degree of esteem in which he was held by those in the judicial community. That's because his list of references included the names of lawyers who had argued opposite him on cases, a sign of respect the appellate judge called a "marvelous compliment" to Calmar.

Chief Court Administrator Patrick L. Carroll III, who appointed Calmar as the New London Judicial District's administrative judge last year, released a statement calling him an "incredibly effective" judge whose passing has devastated those on the bench — as well as the staff he worked alongside every day and the members of the bar who argued in front of him.

Calmar's personal tragedies made him better able to understand the difficulties and challenges that those who appeared in the courtroom were experiencing, according to Carroll — and his kindness and empathy ensured "the justice he discharged was never simply a matter of the mere application of the law" to the facts before him.

"Our hearts are truly broken by the loss of this good and decent man," Carroll said.

e.regan@theday.com

Editor's Note: We have removed the cause of death from the headline. Though Judge Calmar had been battling COVID-19, the specific cause of his death has not been confirmed.

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